Off to see the wizard again
Remember the joy of seeing The Wizard of Oz the first time?
Boomers! Remember how CBS used to show the movie just once a year, then open it for us in prime time as a holiday gift? It was an Event, right up there with Halloween, Christmas and birthdays.
You whippersnappers today, raised on home video and On Demand and streaming movies — you’ll never know the thrill of anticipation, the-whole-family delight of curling up with Mom and Pop and Sis and Baby Boy Phil in front of a television the size of Kansas to watch the annual showing of that masterpiece from Hollywood’s golden era.
And remember how we loved the familiar story and laughed again at the old jokes and, perhaps, shed a tear for poor Dorothy on her long journey home? Was any film ever so pure-D deliciously wonderful?
So it’s kind of fun to find out what a pain in the ass it was to make that movie.
Aljean Harmetz, who wrote this as part of her long career covering Tinseltown, adds a new preface but nothing else to the book, which appeared first in 1977. And why should she? Who could improve on perfection?
Harmetz gives us all the good behind-the-scenes gossip about the making of the movie, the mistakes nearly made (cutting the “Over the Rainbow” sequence, for example, and how the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion hated their costumes and sometimes each other. We learn how the sensitive skin of Buddy Ebsen cost him his role as the Tin Man, and how the little people who played the Munchkins were a soused and horny lot.We also learn about the revolving director’s chair. Victor Fleming got credit for directing both The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind in the same year, but he was aided by uncredited colleagues on both films. The studio system was a pretty amazing machine.
Learning these things doesn’t ruin the film or diminish its magic, If anything, it makes you appreciate the professionalism and artistry that went into making this classic.